School resource officer assignments cause alarm at board meeting

Published 12:10 am Tuesday, August 9, 2022

SALISBURY — At Monday night’s board of education meeting just before the start of school Wednesday, members were asked to authorize the annual contracts with surrounding police departments for their assignment of school resource officers to local schools.

With one exception. It was pointed out that all agreements are the same as last year except with Salisbury Police, who will have someone at all but one of the schools it is in charge of.

It has been publicly addressed by Chief Jerry Stokes and others that police departments everywhere are struggling to hire enough officers to be fully staffed, including Salisbury.

Anthony Vann, chief operating officer for the school system, said Salisbury schools are affected by “the Salisbury Police having difficulty with officer vacancies. We have reached out to other surrounding departments to see if they possibly could help fill a slot, but they have declined. So we have now looked at private entities and have engaged people from there to fill the open spaces in Salisbury schools until such time as the Salisbury PD can do so.”

“Every police department has to set priorities, I know,” said board member Travis Allen, who is currently running for election as Rowan County sheriff to replace long-standing Sheriff Kevin Auten. “It upsets me that in this day and time, with the size of the Salisbury Police Department, that they would say schools are not a priority. If something happens in a school, that’s going to be a public relations nightmare, and they are going to have a whole lot of explaining to do.”

Salisbury Police, however, say they are not pushing schools down on the priority list.

“There’s nothing more important than the safety of our children,” said spokeswoman Linda McElroy. “The Salisbury Police Department and the Rowan-Salisbury School System continue to work through solutions to ensure the protection of our children. We’re recruiting for an additional high school SRO, and look forward to input from the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office.”

“As the chief of the Salisbury police, I and all my officers have always enjoyed a strong relationship with Rowan County Sheriff Auten and all the deputies on all manner of law enforcement issues, including school safety,” said Salisbury Police Chief Jerry Stokes.

Board Chairman Dean Hunter said he sees the board essentially has “three options: 1) have law enforcement organizations in the communities provide officers; 2) work with a third-party security agency that might not have the training, resources, expertise or equipment to really do what we need; or 3) create our own security/SRO program.”

“Well, just know if I have my way in November, the sheriff’s office will fill all SRO positions in our schools, even if I have to sit in there myself,” said Allen.

The board did go ahead and approve the existing agreements so that all existing assignments can be up and running Wednesday, when school begins.

In addition, the board gave the nod to the proposed capital outlay budget for the 2022-2023 fiscal year. The proposal for alterations and additions showed two separate totals under each item — the requested or ideal number, and the actual number. The requested total for that section alone would be more than $5.5 million, but the actual number was reduced to $1.6 million, with plans for several projects to be done in phases. The largest outlay in capital spending appears to be nearly $600,000 for security fencing at Salisbury High School.

When the three categories in the capital budget are totaled, the proposed bottom line is just shy of $4 million, totaling $3,931,753.